How long is too long for the AFL season?
Michael Firrito of North Melbourne (Slattery Images)
Andrew Demetriou did his mid-season round of radio interviews over the weekend, which usually delivers some kind of insight into the future direction of the competition.
This time was no different, with the debate over bringing forward the start of the season getting another airing.
The problem has been the same for some time.
The players, through the AFLPA, have been asking for two byes in the home and away season. This would require the season to last one week longer.
The MCG, however, can’t be used by the AFL any earlier than it is because cricket have claim to the ground should Victoria win hosting rights for the Sheffield Shield final.
Bringing the end of the season back a week is do-able, but as we know from the past two years, there are clashes with other sporting events around the country when this happens.
And that traditional “one day in September” suddenly starts to fall in October.
The way around this is to avoid the MCG in Round 1, which is what Demetriou threatened to do last week by hinting that the league would move the season opener between Richmond and Carlton to Etihad Stadium.
The hint can probably be described as tongue-in-cheek, or as some form of scare tactic. The fixture draws well above Etihad’s capacity so it’s unlikely to actually be moved.
But on Triple M over the weekend, Demetriou was open to the idea of letting cricket have Etihad should they need a venue.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” he claimed. “But yes we could [offer it]. Etihad Stadium is a first class venue and they’ve played cricket there before.”
“If they wanted to play there we could make it available for them and we could play at [the MCG].”
Now, whether Cricket Victoria would view the plan so positively is another story, but you get the sense one way or another the AFL will make it work. In 2012, they played one game – the first Sydney derby – on that earlier weekend, at the very least they’ll try something similar in 2013.
But is the season long enough as it already is? Do we need an extra weekend of footy? Do we need an extra three straight weeks of less games?
On the first two questions, the AFL are definitely pushing the boundaries. The blowouts witnessed in the second half of last season turned many off, although the ultra-competitive nature of this season’s ladder may prevent a repeat of that.
Perhaps the best way to put it is unless the AFL breaks up the club-versus-club cycle – which, just quietly, State of Origin is capable of doing – then the current season length is just right.
It’s the last question, though, where things get tricky.
Many supporters are less than thrilled about shortened rounds of footy, and it’s been that way since the advent of the split round, but player welfare should be paramount.
With the speed of the game increasing, partly because of AFL rule changes, we need to listen to players on issues such as these.
For this reason, I’m supportive of allowing the season to start a week earlier, but that’s only on the proviso the AFL don’t get carried away beyond that.
Not that long ago the league was super-keen on extending the finals series also – and they haven’t fully killed off that idea, either, despite the fact it makes zero sense when you actually break down the implications of it.
Basically, it’s no secret they want to carve even more weeks out of the calendar to claim as their own.
While that makes sense from a commercial perspective, the AFL need to listen to the people that without whom, there would be no game – the players and the fans.
Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio
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